The Miami Dolphins have 10 days between their last game and their next one. Last Thursday, the team was ineffective against the Cincinnati Bengals, losing the game 22-7. This Sunday, they will face the Tennessee Titans back in Miami, just their second time playing at the newly renovated Hard Rock Stadium.
What does the team need to do to fix this season? We have 10 areas the team should address over these 10 days in order to turn around the season.
The team is pretty banged up for it being this early in the season. Mike Pouncey, Branden Albert, Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Jordan Cameron, etc., etc., etc. Some of these names have injury history, so it is not overly surprising to see them on here. The Dolphins need to get healthy over this mini-bye and get their top players back on the field. Early indications have Pouncey returning to practice this week, so that is a positive start toward making this one happen. Will the rest of the team be able to get back out there? Hopefully.
The Dolphins are currently last in the league in third-down conversions. Basically, Miami has two downs to try to pick up a first down, or else they are going to wind up punting. Part of that is not picking up yardage on those early downs, putting them in third-and-long situations, and part of it is poor play calling and poor execution on those plays. The Dolphins need to start establishing longer drives by converting on third down, which will then allow them to even out the time of possession battle, which will then allow the defense to catch its breath before heading back out on the field.
3. DeVante Parker
Miami’s offense is running through Jarvis Landry right now, which is a fine thing if there are more options behind him. Currently, there are not a lot of options behind him. Getting Parker more involved will turn him into a bigger threat, which will force defenses to decide if they want to double cover Landry or Parker, freeing up the other to pick up yardage and make a difference each week. Targeting Parker early in games should help get him into a rhythm faster, and get him established as a threat. He has the ability to be a big-play receiver and it is time to turn him into that.
4. Cameron Wake
Has anyone seen Cameron Wake this year? The Dolphins are being very cautious and deliberate with how and when they put Wake on the field. He has two tackles, with one sack and a forced fumble, through four games this year. At this point, they are saving him to unleash him when he (a) will have absolutely no rhythm for the game and (b) in games that mean nothing for the Dolphins. Maybe Wake is not a “starter” any more and is not able to set the edge against the run - but is anyone on the defense actually setting the edge against the run this year? This defensive line is supposed to be scary with Wake, Ndamukong Suh, and Mario Williams all disrupting opposing quarterbacks all year, but it is hard for Wake to do that from the sideline. Even on clear passing downs, the Dolphins have been keeping Wake on the sideline and rotating Andre Branch and Terrence Fede into the game. When will Wake be unleashed? It needs to be soon.
5. Ryan Tannehill
There are so many fans calling for Tannehill to be benched or cut after the first four games. Neither of those is going to happen. Tannehill is the quarterback of the Dolphins. And, that period at the end of the last sentence is not changing any time soon. What are they going to do, turn to Matt Moore who has not played meaningful football in five years? Give the ball to a rookie who is in such demand he is safely on the practice squad right now? Neither option is making this team better, so Tannehill playing better is the answer. He has got to start feeling the pressure better and making plays on third down. More importantly - and probably more likely in the middle of the season - the Dolphins have to play to his strengths. Move him around, both on bootlegs and let him run the ball more, just keep him mobile. Also, play no-huddle, up-tempo football at the start of the game, as soon as you get the ball. Let Tannehill find his rhythm. Right now, he looks like a quarterback who is thinking too much and trying to be perfect. Until the new offense becomes natural for him, that is going to continue, unless you adjust the gameplan to his strengths.
6. Slow starts
This goes back to the Ryan Tannehill section, but the team has to find a way to get into rhythm immediately when the game starts. Too many times, the offense has appeared to be sleep-walking their way through the first quarter or first half, then trying to make a comeback. By the time the offense does find themselves, they are stuck trying to make a comeback, are forced to throw the ball on nearly every play, and are just becoming too predictable. Miami needs to come out and get themselves started early in the game. If they win the coin toss, take the ball rather than deferring. Get back to establishing the run game and “dink-and-dunk” football early. Move Tannehill. Get the ball into the hands of Parker and Landry. Get Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims involved. Force these things to happen early, so you are not trying to make them happen later. Get the offense into a rhythm and pick up some early first downs. Add confidence and avoid Keane Reeves and Gene Hackman’s quick-sand.
7. Rush defense
The Dolphins spent all offseason and preseason talking about how they were going to be an attacking defense. They were going to dictate the opposing offense because they were disrupting the quarterback from every angle. While part of the issue is not having Cameron Wake on the field, they other - and larger - part is the team seems to have forgotten that the easiest way for an opposing offense to neutralize your pass rush is to not pass the ball. The Dolphins are currently 28th in the league in rushing yards allowed, and that is actually an improvement. The rush defense started to make an appearance last week. Now, they have to continue to show up, stuff the run, and force opponents into a one-dimensional passing attack, where you can now attack as much as you want. The offense converting on third downs would help this as well, but at some point, the defense has to execute and tackle.
8. Offensive line
A big part of this issue is health, including Pouncey and Albert, but the Dolphins have to fix the offensive line (that sentence feels familiar for some reason). They have had two games where they did well against the pass rush, allowing a combined one sack in Weeks 2 and 3. In Weeks 1 and 4, however, they allowed five each. Some of that can be blamed on Tannehill, who either held the ball too long or did not step up in the pocket to avoid the edge rush, but 11 sacks in four games is not acceptable. The offensive line also has to find a way to run-block better. Pouncey’s return should help that, as he is an exceptional run-blocker and pulling center. He can get into the second-level fairly easily and block linebackers away from a running back. The Dolphins need that, especially if they look to force the running game to be established early in contests. The talent appears to be there for the offensive line, something that was not often said in the last few years, but now they have to put it together and start working as one unit.
The Dolphins cornerbacks right now are a rookie starter and, apparently, a second-year starter converting from being a college receiver. Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett made mistakes last week, but they were also put on an island way too often. Rotating safety help to the two young players is a necessity. The Dolphins also have to figure out what they are going to do with Byron Maxwell, who is in Adam Gase’s doghouse, and does not appear to be coming out any time soon. Maybe things will change over this 10 game break, but for now, Maxwell appears to be a backup at best. The cornerbacks have to step up and they have to play better. The defense needs to help the corners, not leave them in one-on-one situations against players like A.J. Green.
(Side note: I would still consider the trade with Philadelphia to get Maxwell a success, because I think Kiko Alonso was actually the better pickup for the team. Yes, Maxwell is expensive, but the team can dump him after this year, using him simply as a bridge to the younger players on the roster - a bridge which appears to have only lasted 3 weeks if he can’t get out of the doghouse.)
Part of this might be the cornerbacks issue, but Miami simply is not getting turnovers. They have recovered three fumbles this year, a 50 percent recovery rate on fumbles forced. They have one interception. In comparison, the team has fumbled away the ball four times and Tannehill has thrown five interceptions. That makes Miami’s turnover ratio on pace for 16 takeaways compared to 36 giveaways. That is unacceptable. Tannehill has to make better decisions, where at times he has made throws that did not need to be made. The offense as a whole needs to protect the ball better. And, the defense needs to start getting takeaways. The cornerbacks stepping up and getting more pressure on the opposing quarterback can help in all of that. Start winning the turnover battle, and the team will be in better field position, with a defense getting off the field quicker and staying off the field longer, and the game will start to swing back toward Miami being favored.